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What is now one of the largest distilling companies in the world, the Sazerac brand has humble beginnings in the world of French cognac as well as the early coffee houses of 1800’s New Orleans. Today, Sazerac rye is distilled as an homage to this long and noble heritage, and is a complex spirit that brings depth and gravitas to the cocktail which bears its name. Featuring a bold, yet smooth pallet of citrus, warming spices and vanilla, with hints of pepper, anise, licorice and clove, this rye is specifically designed to emulate the flavours of the original Sazerac cocktail itself, and brings a world of complexity to all the cocktails found within this month’s box, Big Easy. If you are unable to find Sazerac Rye, any American Rye will do as a substitute. Bulleit Rye or Knob Creek Rye will do. Note: Make sure you get the rye and no the bourbon
Why Sazerac Rye?
The concept of design for Big Easy was not quiet the same as other Crafty’s boxes. While this box does center itself around a very particular rye, Sazerac, it is more a celebration of the name Sazerac, and all the significance that word adds to the history of cocktails and bartending. It also is a homage to the city which is recognized by many as the birthplace of modern cocktail culture, New Orleans, and all the unique recipes and ingredients which have come out of this special place over the past 120 years. The historical influence of the Sazerac is long and complex, but there are three distinct categories which it can be broken into; the original cognac imported from France, the original cocktail recipe and bar of the same name, and the modern rye whiskey, the base spirit for this box. These three categories, while distinct, are deeply intertwined with each other and have wide-ranging impacts on the world of cocktail bartending in general.
In the mid-19th century, a small bar in New Orleans called the Merchant Exchange Tea House was bought by Aaron Bird. He quickly changed the name of the establishment to The Sazerac House, in reference to the superb imported French cognac, Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils, that the establishment was renowned for serving. While the Sazerac House still served the brandy straight, Bird worked with other ingredients to create a drink which some believe to be one of the first true ‘cocktails’ ever created, thought there is evidence that there were other, similar recipes jotted down before this.
While most of the ingredients were simple; sugar, French absinthe, a lemon twist, the defining ingredient in this cocktail (besides the cognac) was a bitters brewed by a prominent apothecary in the city, Antoine Amedie Peychaud. This bitters not only gave the cocktail an incredibly unique taste, but also a vibrantly red colour, which undoubtedly made many heads turn in the streets of the Big Easy.
While the cognac remained the base spirit at first, an epidemic in France slowed and eventually halted its importation, shifting the base spirit to rye whiskey by the late 1800’s, being cheap and plentiful in the Southern US at the time. This is how the drink has been served ever since (although some still prefer a cognac Sazerac, and it is definitely worth a try).
The Sazerac House also operated a spirit import and distribution business of the same name, which, over the next 150 years, became one of the largest spirit producers in the US. As a salute to their humble beginnings, in 2006 the company launched their version of Sazerac Rye, with a bottle reminiscent of the original 1850’s design and featuring a flavour profile that evokes to the flavours of the original cocktail.
As you can see, there is lots of history just in this one drink, but New Orleans is also home to a plethora of other classic cocktail recipes and boast a unique and influential place in culinary history in general, and this box also strives to celebrate this. The Ramos Fizz is another quintessential New Orleans cocktail, with just as extensive of a history, while root beer, lemon pies and sweet teas all have their own long and storied histories in the Southern US.
While another history essay could be written about each of these, it’s probably time you get to making cocktails. However, its beneficial to be aware of how these elements tie into the larger history of New Orleans cocktails, as this history is well represented here with a fantastic offering of ingredients like sarsaparilla root, Fassinola Ruby syrup, Old Bay Seasoning, lemon curd, wintergreen infused absinthe and coffee leaf Iced tea. So enjoy the flavours of the South with this month’s Crafty Cocktails box, Big Easy, and familiarize yourself with the tremendous influence this region has had on cocktails and bartenders the world over.
Root Beer Sazerac
There is no cocktail more classic than the Sazerac. Recognized as the one of the very first American cocktails on record, it has a special place in the hierarchy of cocktail culture and is a drink every aspiring bartender should be familiar with. The same is true of root beer for soft drinks, as versions of this delightful soda have been brewed since the early 1800’s and has roots (pun intended) that stretch back to Native American medicinal practices. With so much history behind them, it seems like a match made in cocktail heaven. Care had to be taken however, as you can not simply add root beer to a Sazerac to produce a tasty, yet authentic drink. Keeping the basic elements of the original Sazerac in place, such as Peychaud’s bitters and lemon oil, the root beer elements were deconstructed to subtly introduce their flavours; monk fruit, muddled sarsaparilla and caramel, thick root beer molasses, and wintergreen infused absinthe all add ‘root beer’ flavours to a very classic execution of the Sazerac cocktail.
Chesapeakean Ramos Fizz
Ramos Fizz’s are yet another example in a long line of a classic cocktails to come out of the New Orleans. While not overly complex in terms of ingredients, a Ramos Fizz’s allure resides in its intricate technique, as the traditional 12-minute shake of the egg whites results in an incredibly rich, yet light and airy cocktail that makes one appreciate the time and effort put in to making it. The simplicity of its ingredients, however, leave a lot of room for manipulation, which is where we at Crafty’s come in. Substitute the gin for deliciously complex Sazerac rye, add some interesting and sweet elements such as muddled peach and ruby Fassinola syrup, a spritz of blood orange floral water, and spicy, savory flavours like Burlesque bitters and Old Bay seasoning, a classic seafood spice from Cheasapeake Bay on the US’s East Coast, and a touch of effervescence from Perrier mineral water and you have a unique version of this classic cocktail which is nothing short of amazing.
Streetcar Named Crafty
Toot toot! All aboard! Our journey on this cocktail adventure will take us through many stops within the Southern United States, none of which should be missed. To the left of your shaker, you’ll see a true brewed iced tea from Wize, and if you gander out to the right, your vision will stumble upon the beautiful lemon custard filling of a warm, homemade pie along with some deliciously tart and sticky candied lemon peels.. And just over your shoulder sits a truly unique ingredient, Bitterman’s Burlesque bitters, exuding all the indulgent and spicey flavours of New Orleans. And that fine powder you see in front of you? That’s citric acid, a bartender’s secret ingredient for adding a little zip to a cocktail. Don’t let these sights pass you by; collect them in your shaker and let the landscape of flavour take you on a journey through the South, and all the wonderful flavours present there.
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